20 Questions About California Wills — Part 1

Lawyer to Widow on the witness stand in court:

I’m sorry, but saying, “You’ll get my money over my dead body does not constitute a Will.”

Learn the basics about having a will in Part 1 of 20 Questions About California Wills

will and testament# 1 — What Happens if I Die Without a Will?

Your assets will be divided and distributed by a judge under state law.

#2  — What Can a Will Do For Me?

  • You can decide who gets your assets.
  • You may designate an executor, guardian, or custodian.

#3 — Does a Will Avoid Probate?


  • With or without a Will, assets in your name alone usually go through Probate.
  • The court’s first job is to determine whether your Will is valid.

#4 — What is Community Property? Can I Give Away My Share?

  • If married, and you and your spouse earned money from work and wages during your marriage, that money (and the things bought with it) is community property.
  • Your Will can only gift one-half of community property.

#5 Does My Will Give Away All of My Assets? Do All Assets Go Through Probate?


  • Money or other assets held in joint tenancy, such as a joint tenancy bank account, automatically belongs to the other named owners without probate. If others are on a deed to your house as a joint tenant, the house automatically passes to the others.
  • Life insurance and retirement plan benefits may pass to named beneficiaries.

#6 — Are There Different Kinds of Wills?

Yes.  All of the following are valid, if done precisely as the law requires.

  • Hand-written Wills
  • Typewritten Wills
  • Attorney-prepared Wills
  • Statutory Wills

#7 — May I Add or Cross Out Words in My Will?

No. If you do, the Will may be invalid, or the court may ignore the crossed out or added words.

#8 — May I Change My Will?


  • Your Will is not effective until you die.
  • You may change it at any time by an amendment (called a codicil) or revoke it and create a new one.
  • You can give away or sell your assets before your death.
  • Your Will only acts on what you own at death.

#9 — Where Should I Keep My Will?

  • Safe deposit box or other safe place.
  • Tell trusted family members where your Will is.

#10 — When Should I Change My Will?

  • When you marry, divorce, or terminate your domestic partnership. Divorce, annulment, or termination of a domestic partnership automatically cancels all property stated to pass to a former spouse or domestic partner under your Will; and revokes the designation of them as your executor, custodian or guardian.
  • When a spouse or children or other Beneficiaries die
  • When you remarry or enter into a new domestic partnership
  • When the value of your assets have a large change

There you have answers to the most common questions people have about their Last Will and Testament. Ready for more? Check out Part Two for the next ten questions you should know about your will.

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